Saturday, July 22, 2017

Certain Songs #939: Liz Phair – “Divorce Song” | Medialoper

Album: Exile in Guyville
Year: 1993

Oh god, “Divorce Song.” My favorite song from Exile in Guyville, and my favorite Liz Phair song.

We’ve all been there, right? One last road trip in a relationship that was clearly already a dead shark, maybe taken as a last-ditch effort at reconnecting, maybe taken because of an obligation larger than the relationship, maybe taken because you didn’t know how not to take it.

And it was a fucking disaster.

And when I asked for a separate room
It was late at night and we’d been driving since noon
But if I’d known how that would sound to you
I would have stayed in your bed for the rest of my life
Just to prove I was right
That it’s harder to be friends than lovers
And you shouldn’t try to mix the two
‘Cause if you do it and you’re still unhappy
Then you know that the problem is you

I mean. That’s like the greatest opening to any break-up song ever, right? It’s . . . fucking profound. Not the least the way it starts in media res, with no setup, no backstory, nothing about how things had once been in the past, just straight to the pain.

And her voice. She’s so sad. So resigned. Breaking just a little on every line, like she’s trying not to cry every single fucking second.

And it’s true that I stole your lighter
And it’s also true that I lost the map
But when you said that I wasn’t worth talking to
I had to take your word on that

You can hear it: they’re fighting about something — maybe the lost map, cos he’s one of those dudes who needs to look at a map every other second, even if he’s memorized the route — and he just snaps and says, “you know what, you’re not even worth talking to right now!” And instantly regrets it.

And she know that. It was said in the heat of the moment.

But if you’d known how that would sound to me
You would have taken it back

And boxed it up and buried it in the ground
Boxed it up and buried it in the ground
Boxed it up and buried it in the ground
Burned it up and thrown it away

Not necessarily forgiveness, but understanding. They’ve probably been there before, and she knows that he just needs to calm down a bit. But even then, she gets that it’s over:

And the license said you had
To stick around until I was dead
But if you’re tired of looking at my face
I guess I already am

At this point, the guitars and drums, which have been right there the whole time, stutter and stumble a bit, weighed down by the realization that Liz just had.

And yet, she’s still going to try and make the best of it, maybe instead of being the last fight, maybe it’s just the latest fight.

But you’ve never been a waste of my time
It’s never been a drag
So take a deep breath and count back from ten
And maybe you’ll be alright

But of course, she knows it isn’t, which was why she asked for a separate room in the first place, and as the music almost raves up underneath a longish, incongruous harmonica solo, it’s trying to distract and distance us from the horrendous break-up we just witnessed.

“Divorce Song” is a masterpiece of observation, a masterpiece of empathy, the emotional highlight of Exile in Guyville and one of the greatest songs the 1990s produced.

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